When March rolls in every year, most high school seniors who have applied to universities in the US will be refreshing their inbox again and again as they wait for those decision letters. Anyone familiar with the college admissions process will recognise that behind the wait for these nerve-wracking decisions lie several years of gruelling academic work and extracurricular activities.
Outsiders might see this determination to get into prestigious schools excessive, but the increasing selectiveness among high-ranking schools is not entirely exaggerated. Harvard hit an all-time low of 4.6% acceptance rate for their class of 2022. In a similar trend, all Ivy League schools as well as MIT and Stanford faced a decline in their acceptance rates from the previous admissions round. Every rising senior class seems to be tackling an even bigger milestone than their predecessor.
Nevertheless, let’s take a step back and examine the students here in Bangkok who have been accepted to selective schools. The playing field might become tougher every year, but our students are rising to accept this challenge and are, in fact, succeeding. Last year, as a graduate of NIST International School and current student at the University of Pennsylvania, I founded the Global University Student Conference (UniGlo), a free and not-for-profit event for high school students (and their parents) to learn about the realities of applying to selective US and UK universities.
As the first event of its kind to be held in Bangkok, the student-run event drew in over 250 attendees from a variety of international schools around Bangkok. The recent accomplishments of Bangkokian seniors, showcased through this year’s UniGlo conference on June 5th , points out something different about the admissions process. It is time to reflect that perhaps it is not the question of how hard you work, but how you are working. Furthermore, getting into a school that will help you grow as a person, and not necessarily the most selective school, is becoming more important. Here in Bangkok, two seniors, Nat Puapattanakajorn and Nandini Mittal, have stood out in this 2018 admissions round as students who chose the road less travelled.
Nat Puapattanakajorn will be graduating from Anglo Singapore International School this year and she is headed to University of Pennsylvania to study their Philosophy, Politics and Economics programme. Don’t let her friendly smile and contagious energy fool you – given any topic, she can and probably will floor you in a debating match. Despite the fact that Anglo Singapore International School primarily offers STEM subjects and most of Nat’s friends are headed to the UK, Nat’s passion lies within the humanities, and she has actively pursued her interests across several facets.
In a conversation with Nat, she elegantly explained that she simply could not see herself working with STEM subjects in the future. Understanding science was never a problem for her – it was science’s application to the tangible world that disoriented her. In contrast, fields in the humanities drew her in and provided her with the tools to solve the problems she sees today.
So how else did Nat break away from the norm? She is proof that even students who went to a relatively small school can succeed in gaining admissions to selective universities in the US. Anglo Singapore International School is only a fourth the size of other well-known Bangkok international schools such as ISB, NIST, or BPS. Although its size may not limit the quality of education, there are definitely limitations on how many extracurriculars are offered.
An impulse reaction to this barrier might be to join as many activities as possible outside of school. However, before Nat looked any further, she took advantage of what her school already offered: a strong debating programme. She has been involved in debate for six years and landed a spot in the Debate Thailand National team in 2016 and 2018. It is through this involvement that led her to become a part of the network of other international school students who exposed her to other extracurricular events.
Joining the debate team also led Nat to develop her own vision. Her first ever debate topic was about Miley Cyrus and whether female pop stars should be able to use their sexuality to promote themselves. The feminist topics that Nat has encountered since that first debate has influenced her to become incredibly inspired by how far women have come, and how much more they still have to go. With a feminist lens, Nat became a well-rounded individual and a valued member of her community by mentoring shy, younger female peers and engaging in gender discussions with her family.
Even with her role in debate, Nat still chose to work around the limited extracurricular offers at her school. Her solution was to become part of the school’s student council where she could best enact change. As the President in 2017, she did more than just organise prom and spirit week. Nat started two new programmes that would later on create a tight-knight community for her school. The first one is the Family Programme.
Once she gathered her dream team, Nat emulated the big-little programme in Thai schools and tried to foster more junior-senior interactions. This lent itself to her next programme, the Student Leadership Camp, in which Nat decided to create a school tradition where upperclassmen would camp together for one night and reflect on their past experiences.
Similar to Nat, Nandini Mittal, a NIST International School senior, is also an incredible individual who is leaving behind big shoes for her underclassmen to fill. Despite having been to a large international school, Nandini will be attending Claremont McKenna College, a highly selective small-scale liberal arts college on the west coast of the US. At Claremont, she hopes to pursue her interests in the humanities – specifically looking into areas such as economics, sociology, human rights, and econometrics.
Whereas Nat will be leaving a small community into a fairly large, private institution, Nandini will be trading in her city-girl badge for a more intimate college environment – even Nandini herself sounded a tad bit surprised with this change, albeit a happy and exciting one. She may describe herself as a city-girl through and through, but by choosing Claremont McKenna, she is embracing her own road less travelled while also staying true to her own go- getter identity.
Unlike the typical student, Nandini genuinely considered how the student body could enhance her intellectual pursuits in her decision processes. She anticipates and welcomes the change in student body personality she is going to see at Claremont McKenna. Having been heavily integrated into the fabric of NIST’s community, Nandini stands out as a true leader of her school and hopes to continue her school involvement in university, while also wanting to be able to have even deeper conversations with the people she is around. Being surrounded by people with similar vision is as important to her as being in an interdisciplinary environment.
Despite Nandini’s eagerness to attend Claremont McKenna, she still acknowledges the stigma behind attending liberal arts colleges, especially in an Asian environment where prestige and name carries significant weight. Nevertheless, Nandini’s thoughtfulness manifests itself in the many opportunities she sees herself taking advantage of.
One opportunity she is particularly partial to is an internship that will offer her the chance to conduct her own research. Through this internship, she wants to merge her love for human rights and econometrics, stating that “qualitative analysis can only go so far before quantitative analysis needs to step in.” Thus, she intends to take the initiative to bridge the communication gap between these two seemingly different worlds.
Like Nat, Nandini has attributes her successes not to her scores or extracurricular achievements, but because of the vision in which she uses to guide her decisions. As she dove deeper into the world of economics, the same question kept coming back to her: how can she use math concepts to explain economic concepts in the social sphere? With her goal to alter and better communication about social structure and social atmosphere, Nandini chose to develop both her economical and mathematical knowledge in her own unique way.
Nat and Nandini are two among several other international school seniors who will be part of the of this year’s Global University Student Conference. This event is fully open to the public as a free event that provides unique insights into the application processes from a student perspective. The second annual event will be held at S31 Sukhumvit Hotel on Tuesday, 5th of June at 5:30pm. Students currently looking to study abroad for university – I encourage you to seek advice, to come to the event and receive guidance through the anxiety-inducing process of applying to US and UK universities.